DIVA TALK: Perfectly Polly (Bergen) and News of McDonald, Egan, McKechnie and More

DIVA TALK: Perfectly Polly (Bergen) and News of McDonald, Egan, McKechnie and More POLLY BERGEN in CABARET

POLLY BERGEN in CABARET

As an audience member, there's something completely calming that happens when a true theatre professional takes — or, rather, commands — the stage. It's a bit of an anomaly, however, because while that thespian makes the theatregoer relax — knowing that that actor is in complete control of his or her performance — there's also an excitement that builds, watching the actor strut his or her stuff. Such is the case with Polly Bergen, who recently assumed the role of Fraulein Schneider in the Tony winning revival of Cabaret.

Bergen, who was on Broadway last season as Carlotta in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, is an accomplished actress and singer. In fact, even with minimal stage time, she was the highlight of the Roundabout Theater's Follies revival, her rendering of "I'm Still Here" a flawless theatrical moment. Her command of the stage in Cabaret is equally evident, although you may not recognize the usually glamorous Bergen, who assumes the demeanor of the world-weary Schneider with surprising ease. Bergen also performs the role with an authentically thick German accent and is the first actress in this revival to have the pipes to do justice to the Kander and Ebb score.

Bergen's renditions of "So What" and "What Would You Do?" are thrilling, both vocally and acting-wise. She employs her powerful belt to tremendous effect in her first solo, "So What." As she sings, "For the sun will rise and the moon will set and you learn how to settle for what you get. It will all go on if we're here or not, So who cares? So what?," you can see and hear the frustration and sense of disenchantment that has entered the soul of the German landlord. However, this disillusion with those around her only makes her transformation — at the gifts of love (and pineapple) she receives from Herr Schultz — more powerful. Bergen is especially moving in the second half of the show, when she concludes that she will have to abandon her romance for her own survival. Her rendition of "What Would You Do?" is quite moving.

The rest of the cast does well, too. I especially enjoyed Candy Buckley's performance as Fraulein Kost. Buckley sings well and is appropriately appalling during the Act I finale of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." Busy actor Raúl Esparza — who'll star in the upcoming Kennedy Center productions of both Merrily We Roll Along and Sunday in the Park with George — makes a fine emcee, even if he can't erase the memory of Alan Cumming's spectacular, award-winning turn. Michael Greer is appealingly boyish and charming as Cliff, and Molly Ringwald offers an adequate Sally Bowles, although her performance does make one appreciate the depth Natasha Richardson brought to the role that won her a Tony. Overall, the show remains a powerful piece of theatre — the conclusions of each act are still shocking even after repeated visits — and diva fans shouldn't miss the chance to see Bergen's nuanced performance as Fraulein Schneider . . . Let's just hope that someone is smart enough to record Bergen singing her Follies and Cabaret numbers. QUOTABLE QUOTES:

Betty Buckley discusses working with her analyst on her acclaimed theatrical interpretations in Anthony Chase's ArtVoice article:
“She is a brilliant woman and my best friend. In the years I have worked with her, I feel that I have gotten a degree in psychology; she has helped me so much. She worked with me on my interpretation of Sunset Boulevard. Wherever I have a block, because I have resistances to many things. That is why meditation really helps me; it keeps me aware of my obstacles to a character or a play or a job situation. The tendency sometimes is to ignore an obstacle or to leapfrog over it or not take care of it. You have to bring it to the surface of your consciousness and say, ‘OK, why am I resisting this aspect of the character?’ There were a couple of spots in Buffalo Gal where I could not remember the lines. Every time I got to that point, my mind would go blank. Finally, after some work with my analyst, I realized that Amanda has very few boundaries with people she doesn’t know. She just talks. And she says very intimate things. These are the places where I would forget the lines. Now, I can’t say, ‘She wouldn’t do that!’ because she does do that in this play. I have to find the perfect logic of why. So, to me, it is that she has a boundary problem. She is in a process to work through these issues, but she doesn’t have it down yet. She is trying to stop herself, but she can’t because she is so needy. And she is also pretty lonely, too. It is the reason she has come back to her hometown.”

In an interview for Parade, James Brady asks Bernadette Peters her favorite role:
"Annie Get Your Gun. It was so much fun or I'd never have stayed with it for two years. Even 5-year-olds loved that show, as well as the 80-year olds."

Stephen Holden's New York Times review of Lillias White's cabaret program at Feinstein's at the Regency (White concludes her run April 20):
"Lillias White is a singer who makes the most challenging vocal feats look almost easy. Endowed with endless stamina and exuberance, she marches jubilantly across stylistic borders like Napoleon's army sweeping through Europe . . . What sets Ms. White apart from pop-soul divas with comparable technique is an interpretive savvy that keeps her displays from deteriorating into empty show. Wisely letting the material guide her approach, she stretches from a frisky unadorned tanginess [Thelonious Monk's 'Well, You Needn't'] to humorously sexy character acting in an extended rendition of Cole Porter's 'Love for Sale' that is something to behold."

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Three-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will sing the songs of George Gershwin at the Hollywood Bowl on July 27 and 28. Simply titled "Gershwin with Audra McDonald," the evenings will also feature the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of David Alan Miller. In addition to McDonald's repertoire for the evenings, which will include selections from Porgy and Bess, the Philharmonic will solo on two George Gershwin classics, "An American in Paris" and "Rhapsody in Blue," the latter featuring Kevin Cole at the piano. As previously announced, McDonald will also perform at New York's Joe's Pub on May 20, 21, 24, 25 and 26, and she will make her solo Carnegie Hall concert debut on Nov. 2. The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 N. Highland Avenue in Hollywood, CA, and tickets are available by calling (323) 850-2000 . . . Donna McKechnie's new recording, "Inside the Music," goes on sale today, April 19, on the Fynsworth Alley label. In this one-woman musical celebration, McKechnie performs songs from several of her theatre outings and offers personal anecdotes about her experiences with some of the theatre’s finest actors, directors, producers and writers. Recorded live on March 7 in front of an invited audience at New York’s Clinton Studios, the disc features such tunes as "Everybody Says Don't," "In Buddy's Eyes," "Lies of Handsome Men," "Broadway Boogie Woogie Blues" and "The Music and the Mirror." It was also recently announced that the award-winning actress will star in a limited run of the new Off-Broadway musical Rockwell, which is based on the life of famed artist Norman Rockwell. Rockwell begins performances at the Blue Heron Arts Center (123 East 24th Street, New York) on May 17 and runs through June 2. "Inside the Music" can be purchased at the Fynsworth Alley website, www.fynsworthalley.com, or by calling 1-877-773-FYNS . . . On June 10-12 (at 11 PM), June 13 (at 8 PM) and June 14 (at 7:30 PM), CUNY-TV (Channel 75 in the metropolitan area) will rebroadcast "New York in Song," a TV cabaret to raise money for scholarships for children of the victims of the September 11 tragedy. Of special interest to diva fans are performances by 42nd Street's Christine Ebersole, who sings "Lullaby of Broadway"; Karen Mason, the Mamma Mia! star, who belts Kander & Ebb's "New York, New York"; Heather Mac Rae, who sings Julie Gold's touching "Goodnight New York"; and Liz Callaway, who wraps her rich alto around Sondheim's "Another Hundred People." Interested diva lovers can also purchase a video of the 90-minute show for $39.95. The tax deductible donation to CSFA—Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund should be sent to CUNY TV, 365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1400, New York, NY 10016 . . . Susan Egan, who originated the role of Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, will star in a concert version of High Button Shoes this May in California. Part of the Rubicon Theater Company's "Lost and Found Concert Series," High Button Shoes begins performances on May 24 and runs through June 10. The Rubicon Theater is located at 1006 E. Main Street in Ventura, CA. Tickets are available by calling (805) 667-2900, ext 1 or on-line at www.rubicontheater.com . . . In the liner notes for Jessica Molaskey's solo recording debut, National Public Radio's Jonathan Schwartz writes, "[Molaskey] is droll, understated and heartbreaking. Her singing is witty and beautiful, and her album, at least to me, is a singular work of art." Molaskey's new CD, "Pentimento," which will be available from PS Classics next month, is a 17-track recording that puts a jazzy twist on a collection of vintage songs from the twenties and thirties. Featuring such tunes as "What'll I Do?," "Ain't We Got Fun," "By the Beautiful Sea" and "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," the disc also boasts two original tunes — "Sail Away" and "I Tried Too Hard for Too Long" — as well as a duet with jazz guitarist-singer (and Molaskey's husband) John Pizzarelli. Arrangements for the CD, which was produced by Tommy Krasker, are by Pizzarelli and Allen Sviridoff. "Pentimento," which refers to "an underlying image in a painting, usually when the top layer becomes transparent with age to reveal a different layer underneath," will be available on-line at psclassics.com beginning May 21. The CD will hit music stores on June 4 . . . And, finally, a stellar group of actors will take part in the "Intimate Conversations" lecture series, which begins May 13 at Musical Theatre Works. Jason Robert Brown and Daisy Prince open the series on May 13, and the composer and director are scheduled to discuss the making of the new Off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years. May 14 brings Jerry Bock, Joseph Stein and Sheldon Harnick, who will examine the creation of Fiddler on the Roof. Michael Greif, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Anthony Rapp will speak about their Rent experience on May 20, and Michael Mayer, Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan address Thoroughly Modern Millie's creation on May 21. Musical Theatre Works will also offer a series of one-on-one conversations with some of Broadway most acclaimed stars. Bebe Neuwirth sits down for a chat on May 15, and she will be followed by Evita Tony winner Mandy Patinkin (May 16), our very own Tony-winning Cats star Betty Buckley (May 22) and Falsettos composer William Finn (May 23). Musical Theatre Works is located at 440 Lafayette Street. All shows begin at 7 PM, and tickets are priced at $25. Seating for each lecture is limited to 75, and tickets may be purchased by calling (212) 677-0040, ext. 312.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:
May 4 at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, IL (Benefit for Goodman Theatre)
May 11 at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham, AL
June 27-28 at the Zellerbach Theatre in the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania in PA (with Jay Leonhart — "Betty and the Bass")
June 29 at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY
July 7 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM
Sept. 28 at the Hauge Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
Oct. 3-6 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 22-Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY-Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
Dec. 31 at the Tilles Center at CW Post University in Glen Cove, NY

Barbara Cook in Concert:
April 18-28 at the Mohegan Sun in CT
May 14 Cook receives the New Dramatists’ Lifetime Achievement Award at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York, NY
May 19-20 with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA
June 5-9 and June 12-16 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
June 23-Aug. 26 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York, NY (Mostly Sondheim)
July 5 at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts in Long Island
August 14-18 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
Oct. 19 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA
Nov. 17 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ

Maureen McGovern in Concert:
April 30-May 6 & May 8-May 13 Cinegrill Grand Re-Opening, Los Angeles, CA
May 17-18 "Works of Heart" Seminar - New York, NY
June 22 "Music by the Lake," Lake Geneva, WI
June 29-Aug. 17 Dear World at Sundance Theater, Sundance, UT
July 4 at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts at the Venetian Theater, Katonah, NY
Sept. 1-2 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon, Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 20 - 22 Grand Rapids Symphony at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
Sept 26-29 North Carolina Symphony, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 American Music Therapy Association Conference in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit, Carnegie Hall in New York City
Dec. 12 - 14 at Orange County Performing Arts Center Founders Hall in Costa Mesa, CA

Bernadette Peters in Concert:
May 17 at Harrah's in Atlantic City, NJ
June 7 at the Ravinia Pavillion in Highland Park, IL
June 19 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY
June 28 at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, CA
July 2 at the Interlochen Center in Interlochen, MI
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX
Sept. 28 at the Weidner Center in Green Bay, WI
Oct. 24 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 26 at the Kleinhans Auditorium in Buffalo, NY Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

By Andrew Gans